Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) has, to say the least, a very odd understanding of the Constitution. He thinks Texas should be able to opt out of Social Security, and he believes that everything from federal public school programs to clean air laws are unconstitutional. Yet in an interview with the Daily Beast's Andrew Romano, Perry makes his most outlandish claim to date — Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional:
The Constitution says that "the Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes… to provide for the… general Welfare of the United States." But I noticed that when you quoted this section on page 116, you left "general welfare" out and put an ellipsis in its place. Progressives would say that "general welfare" includes things like Social Security or Medicare—that it gives the government the flexibility to tackle more than just the basic responsibilities laid out explicitly in our founding document. What does "general welfare" mean to you?
[PERRY:] I don't think our founding fathers when they were putting the term "general welfare" in there were thinking about a federally operated program of pensions nor a federally operated program of health care. What they clearly said was that those were issues that the states need to address. Not the federal government. I stand very clear on that. From my perspective, the states could substantially better operate those programs if that’s what those states decided to do.
So in your view those things fall outside of general welfare. But what falls inside of it? What did the Founders mean by "general welfare"?
[PERRY:] I don't know if I'm going to sit here and parse down to what the Founding Fathers thought general welfare meant.
But you just said what you thought they didn't mean by general welfare. So isn't it fair to ask what they did mean? It's in the Constitution.
Perry's reading of the Constitution raises very serious questions about whether he understands the English language. The Constitution gives Congress the power to "to lay and collect taxes" and to "provide for the…general welfare of the United States." No plausible interpretation of the words "general welfare" does not include programs that ensure that all Americans can live their entire lives secure in the understanding that retirement will not force them into poverty and untreated sickness.
Moreover, Perry's belief that Social Security and Medicare must cease to exist not only puts him well to the right of his fellow Republicans in Congress — who recently voted to gradually phase out Medicare — it also puts him at the rightward fringe of the GOP presidential field. Not even Michele Bachmann has gone on record claiming that America’s two most cherished programs for seniors violate the Constitution, although she did invite a Fox News analyst who shares Perry's beliefs to lecture her fellow lawmakers on what the Constitution requires.
When House Budget Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) released the GOP's plan to slowly eliminate Medicare, it was the most conservative budget proposal anyone had seriously considered in generations. Perry's agenda, however, makes Paul Ryan look like Ted Kennedy.